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"how do you survive deployments?"

July 08, 2012

From civilians to active duty spouses, I cannot count how many times people have asked "How do you survive deployment?" When I'm asked that question, I think a few things in my head, and keep them there:

  • Deployment isn't a terminal disease. 
  • Are you so dependent on your significant other that you literally could not function without them?
  • I don't think deployment is that bad, but the way you question it makes me question myself. Should I be afraid for my life during deployment? (no)
  • When your significant other is gone for a short business trip, you really think it's that bad?
I know some of the people who ask aren't intending the literal interpretation, kind of like asking a pregnant woman how she feels. I can often tell by the tone in someone's voice what they really mean by the question. Sometimes, they do mean how do I survive. I love when people say "My husband was gone for a few days on business, I know exactly how you feel." HAHA do you? I'm not even going to comment on that. 

You already know you come here to get the brutal truth and my honest opinions, so here' it goes: How I Survive Deployments. This might be bit lengthy having been through 5 deployments, but each was different and I'll throw in some tips for "surviving" and tips for civilian friends. My intentions was to briefly tell you how I survive deployment, but the post turned into a how-to post for those new to deployments and it is still beneficial for civilians that are curious.

9 years of being together, 5 deployments, 2 moves (to different states, not including around-the-city moves), 2 dogs, 1 fish and 1 child later, I am still living. 

Our first deployment (and I say that to be vague- obviously it was Travis' deployment) was probably the hardest, for a few reasons. Technology, believe it or not, in 2007 wasn't everywhere, and although OIF wasn't still a constant firefight, but things were going down. Other stresses included me finishing my last year of college, my internship and planning my wedding two hours away from the location (doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was). I was in my early twenties, none of my friends had any idea what it was like and didn't know anyone in the military. I was alone. Marine Wives? Check out this post for details on that: Support Structure.

We went through four deployments just the two of us. This last deployment, we had a newborn. OMG a newborn, how did you survive? I think a deployment with a newborn is the easiest deployment you can have. Sure, it's stressful and tiring, but the newborn has no idea that daddy is gone, the newborn cannot talk, walk, crawl or move, it eats, sleeps and poops--the easiest time for you to have a child during a deployment. I'll post later about newborns and deployment. 


technology then & now
Then: Facebook was available for college students. Internet use and accessibility was limited, unless you were chilling at the Hilton of Al Asad sitting in air conditioning, eating Pizza Hut and updating your MySpace page. My Marine was nowhere near there and had limited access to satellite phones (for personal calls), internet and email. Texting hadn't evolved yet. I received a phone call about once a month, if I got more than that, I would tremble as the phone rang, but everything was always okay. I absolutely loved receiving snail mail (hand written letters) even though by the time I received them, everything was old news. They were still great to read, it was something that Travis had touched, taken the time to write and sent my way. I still have all of the letters. I stalked the mail box more than I stalked my email. Email wasn't too big in 2007 either, not for personal communication at least.

Now: Marines (though I'm referring to all military) typically have their phones or phones they have bought in-country that they can text you from or at least call whenever they want/need to. Travis and I emailed back and forth all day long, to the point when it came time to Skype or G Chat, we had nothing to talk about, but I'm not complaining. After the Iraq deployment, no letters were sent, it was always email, video chat and phone calls.

I am happy that I got to experience the ups and downs of both worlds-with and without technology. I cherish those hand written letters. It's irritating to see people complain that they haven't talked to their husband in a day, or that he's not texting back or that they had to shut down communication until further notice (which happens a lot). It will be okay. If you live your deployment life around your spouse's schedule and anticipation, it's going to eat you alive. 

Tip 1: Don't have your smartphone glued to your hand. I am not one to talk because I would not let my phone out of my site. Every noise my phone made, I hoped it was Travis. That can make you go crazy pretty easy. We typically emailed around the same two times per day, so once we established a routine, it was easier to let my phone go and know to be around it during those couple of hours.
Civilian Friend Tip: Please don't criticize or make fun of your friend for always checking their phone and email or bringing their husband up in conversations. We all (civilian or not) enjoy talking about our loved ones. The spouses are deployed, not ex-spouses, they are still a big part of life and make us happy. 

live your life 
Your Marine probably wants to be deployed, it's what he signed up for and he's working hard over there. Don't sit around and pout about him being gone all day, because I can promise you he's not sitting around and pouting about not being at home. He's working, he's sweating, he's eating crap food, he misses you, but he's doing what he loves. Pouting won't bring anyone home.

The first month and last month are the hardest months of the deployment. During the first month, you spend your time pouting (it's okay), getting into a new routine, figuring out a communication schedule and getting the hang of things "on your own." Like I said, during our first deployment, we had little communication, I was a college student and planning our wedding. My roommates and friends kept me happy and busy, as did classes. I still went out, still had a good time and lived my life, after all, it was my last year of college. At times I felt guilty for going out, but he wanted me to have fun. Why sit in my apartment all day and sulk while he's out doing his thing? The second, third and fourth deployments were different. We were married, living in California, I had my dream job, my best friend and college roommate lived an hour away and life was good. Those deployments were not in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they were still 7 month deployments. Internet, texting and phone calls were more common during these deployments, which made things easier. I kept myself busy working, hanging out with friends and enjoying California. I'm an only child, so I've always enjoyed alone time, too. I don't have much advice for people who don't work, I honestly would probably go insane if I was just sitting around all day with nothing to do, no one to see and no kids to  teach, love and entertain.

Tip 2: Don't stop living. Continue life, as is, minus your husband being physically there. Email him and send him photos of your day, keep him up to date and make him feel like he is there. Do home improvements, scrapbooking and other things to keep you busy. It's fun to have a little show and tell once they come home. My show and tell after one deployment was a new dog {Maverick} though he knew a little bit about him before he came home.
Civilian Friend Tip: Keep being a friend. Often times friends are so concerned and devastated when hearing that their friend's spouse is going to deploy that they are always saying "i don't know how you're going to do it" "omg he leaves so soon" They are valid thoughts, but should be left in your mind, don't stress your friend out. More often than not, friends are supportive before and after the deployment, but distance themselves during the deployment, that's when your friend needs you the most. 

The last month sucks. There's no denying it. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you've learned anything from the military, dates mean nothing, and I wrote about it here. During our first deployment, we changed our wedding date 7 times because of his "homecoming date." Once we had the "final homecoming date" I booked my flight to California. Long story short, I changed that flight 7 times, finally flew out to California, not even sure he would be there the next day. He was. During the last month, you're doing everything you said you wanted to do during the entire deployment but kept putting off, you're probably going to the gym, eating better, cleaning the house, buying gifts and making plans.

Tip 3: Write in pencil, because everything is going to change. Find patience, though I never did. Keep yourself busy to make those last few, agonizing weeks fly by.

support
Thought it seems as if having a friend who knows how it is would be best, sometimes it's the worst. I longed to be close to military spouses who knew what I was going through, but after getting to know them and listening to them complain all day and compare stories, it was exhausting. It was easier for my civilian friends to ask how it was going or how he was doing and explain ,that was  my way of venting. I also connected with other spouses through blogs and Twitter, you can filter them out that way and really know who you'er going to connect with. Even after connecting with those awesome women, we didn't sit around and talk about deployment all day, but if we wanted to, we knew we had each other to turn to. You can read more about it in this post. My best deployment was when I didn't go out of the norm to seek support. I didn't seek support, I just kept living my life as-is. It was the most stress-free and drama-free deployment I had.

Tip 4: Don't force yourself to be friends with team members wives or affiliates. Choose friends how you always have, by the people you genuinely like and have something in common with.
Civilian Friend Tip: See tip 2. 

your birthday, anniversary and holidays
Don't count on your birthday, anniversary or holidays being celebrated while your spouse is deployed. Your spouse might shower you with gifts on every occasion when he's home, but he's not always going to have the time or access to go shopping for you online, call you on that day or anything else you're dreaming on. He's deployed, not staying in a 5 star hotel on a business trip. He honestly might forget about the holiday or not be able to acknowledge it until it has passed. Fair enough, he's at war, right?

Tip 5: Instead of focusing on what he's not able to do for you, focus on what you can do for him to make those dates special. As much as I want to preach not to get upset about missed dates, I got upset, but didn't let him know, I just kept it inside, maybe because we are used to the norm.  In the next couple of week's I'll be posting about my deployment gifts- things I made and gave to my husband on the day he left. These are better than care packages, just wait and see!
Civilian Friend Tip: Call your friend on their birthday and other special days. Hang out with them or take them out, if you can. Having someone close-by remembering can help, a lot. My friends always went out to dinner with me or hung out with me on those days, it helped pass the time and we had a lot of fun. 

cherish it 
Cherish deployment? Yes. Be proud of your spouse and yourself. They are one of the few and the proud. Your spouse is fighting for our country and doing amazing things. You are supporting that amazing person, together you are the perfect team. In the future, you'll have fun looking back at emails, written letters, photos and hearing your spouse tell stories about deployments. It's not something everyone gets to do or hear about.
Tip 6: Find the good in every day and deployment. If you think it will be hard, keep a journal and write about at least one good thing in every day, at the end of the day, or email it to your spouse.

sympathize for the spouse
No, don't throw a pity party or feel bad for them because they are deployed. Honestly, I've never heard a Marine complain about going on deployment. Sure, he might complain about the people he has to go with, but not once have they said "aw shucks I can't believe I'm going." This is what they live for. It's their Superbowl (13th MEU knows what I'm talking about). What I mean is that whatever you are going through, he is too, don't forget that. You're sad because you're home raising your kids by yourself? He's even more sad because he's missing 7-12 months of their lives- could you imagine?
Tip 7: Be supportive. Let him know how proud you are and how much you miss him. Let him know (the good things) what's going on at home and make him feel like he's a part of it. You're sad that he didn't send a Christmas present? He's sad that he couldn't send you one, and that he can't spend it with you and that he's probably cuddling his riffle vs. waiting for Santa to come down the chimney of his tent.
Civilian Friend Tip: Same thing, be supportive. Don't post on their Facebook that you feel bad for them because they are deployed, or it sucks so bad that they are still gone. Don't make them feel guilty, just be a friend.

don't worry. ever.
If you don't need to watch the news, don't. Although, the war is rarely covered on the news now, there are still people over there, including your loved one. Don't jump to conclusions when you see something bad in the headlines. If he didn't call you when he said he was going to, there are probably 30 different reasons that he didn't. Just be patient and wait until he calls to hear why. Worrying and assuming the worst is only going to eat you alive.
Tip 8: Don't assume anything. Wait to hear from your Marine.
Civilian Friend Tip: Pretend you see and hear nothing on the news. Nothing is worse than "I saw an F18 crashed and I know your husband is a pilot, is he okay?" I would punch you in the face if you asked me something like that. (my husband isn't an F18 pilot).

Every deployment is different. Every family is different. Travis left for his 5th deployment when Brady was 3 weeks old, but was supposed to leave before he was born. I 'survived' 6 months of him being deployed while I raised a newborn by myself, with all family 3,500 miles away. It's possible, everyone will survive. Don't worry about what you're going to do or how you're going to do, just do it!
How many can say they've reenlisted in the Red Sea?
homecomings
Homecomings aren't always like what you seen on TV. Actually, we've never had a homecoming like that. Our first homecoming, I parked near the armory and as Travis was coming out of turning in his weapon, we reunited in the middle of the road. Seriously (below). The second, third and fourth homecomings we met in a parking lot and waited hours upon hours for their bags to arrive. Yawn. The fourth homecoming, Travis flew ahead with a few others, and by few I mean like 100. We picked him up at at 11p on the tarmac at Miramar. It was way passed Brady's bed time, he was sick, I was cold and that's about it. He got off the plane, we hugged, he grabbed Brady, Brady got fussy so I fed him and tried to keep him warm, then we waited for bags and headed home to go to bed, it was late. It doesn't happen the way you see it on TV unless a production company is making a show out of it, then they'll make it look glorious.

Final tip for everyone: There wasn't a draft. He chose this life and you chose to marry into it. He longs to deploy and you should long to support him. No pity parties, only welcome home parties!

I wrote a lot, while trying to keep it short. There are a lot of other details for 'surviving' deployments, but I wanted to keep it pretty wide-spread so that everyone can relate. I'll have a few follow up posts after this to go into more detail, but let me know in the comments what you think, what you'd like to know and what other questions you have. I love answering questions and filling people in on everything they are curious about the military lifestyle.

Semper Fi, 

3 comments:

  1. This is all so true! I need to recommend this to other unit wives. They're all going nuts.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, feel free to share. Obviously it goes a lot deeper than what I've highlighted, but sometimes reading it from someone else helps bring you back to reality.

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  2. I think those first homecoming pictures are pretty damn amazing. My hormonal ass is sitting here with tears in my eyes. Hope I've been a good friend when travis is off fighting bad guys.

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